My Experience with Anxiety
by Tom Connell, LPC & ETHOS Co-Founder - Most of us have experienced anxiety. The stress of a long workday; some unexpected life event; rumination over a conflict in a relationship; or basic “fight or flight” responses to external stimuli. For some folks anxiety can be crippling. A simple feeling of discomfort in the brain or body can quickly lead to shortness of breath, increased heart rate, fears of “something is terribly wrong with me”, and sheer panic.
Scientists believe that a marble-sized area in the brain called the amygdala serves as the hub of fear and anxiety. In people with an anxiety disorder, inappropriate fear and anxiety are caused by a hyperactive or overly sensitive amygdala. More modern day researchers believe that “no one brain region drives anxiety on its own”, but that it is a combination of interactions among several brain areas - like the cognitive brain interacting or battling with our emotional brain. Understanding and resolving this interplay becomes key to managing our fears and anxieties.
The first year of recovery can be especially taxing and demanding on our mental health. I can remember the first time I had a panic attack. I was driving in my car after a stressful day at work and an uneasy feeling crept over me, mostly in my head - a dizziness, then followed by a slight foggy sensation. After 30 seconds I could feel my heart racing, shortness of breath, and then a rapid cycle of negative thoughts with the theme of “Am I losing my mind? What’s wrong with me? Am I going crazy? ". I pulled to the side of the road, hyperventilating and praying desperately that this would end. The feeling eventually passed but I was left unsettled from the whole experience.
Later, when home, I called my sober friend Walt and retold the whole event. He suggested that I talk to a professional and get an opinion. “It's probably some anxiety, but it's always better to get another opinion besides mine” he said. Later in the week I called a good psychologist in the area who not only specialized in anxiety but was familiar with people who suffered from addictions. After several sessions, we began to get to the root of my fears. Over time, my mood improved and I gained great insight into how my brain worked and what factors led to increased anxiety/fear. She also taught me how to meditate to reduce and manage daily stress.
The biggest challenge moving forward was managing anxiety. It became important to have others in my life whom I could trust. To defeat anxiety a recipe of honestly appraising my stress, healthy venting with others, and removing negative self-talk became necessary. That, and practicing the new skill of meditation became valuable tools in my recovery journey.